Ask most Mississippi State football fans to rank their all-time favorite Bulldog wins and the 1996 victory over Alabama is likely to be high on the list. For Reuben Burch, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering in the Bagley College of Engineering, it’s also a big reason why he ultimately chose to attend Mississippi State as a student.
A native of Montevallo, Alabama, Burch had grown up as an Auburn fan. His father had been on Auburn’s track & field team and Burch figured it was the school he would attend as well. But when Burch started looking at colleges, his dad, then the chief engineer at Alabama Power, mentioned that the best young engineers at the company were all from Mississippi State.
“I came to Starkville on a recruiting visit the weekend of the Alabama game in 1996,” Burch said. “The energy of that game and the friendliness of the fans was special and something I decided that I wanted to be a part of. It’s been only Mississippi State ever since.”
Burch was a walk-on fullback for the Bulldogs from 1997-2001, playing for teams that won the 1998 SEC Western Division title and that reached three-straight bowl games. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 2002.
After more than a decade in private industry and after earning his Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering in 2014 through MSU’s online program, Burch joined the ISE faculty in 2016. In addition to his work in industrial & systems engineering, he also serves as an associate director at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) and is a faculty research fellow at the National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center (NSPARC).
Since his return to campus, and with his past as a Bulldog athlete in mind, Burch has helped create the Athlete Engineering research program. The multi-disciplinary team includes faculty and staff from such on-campus areas as engineering, athletics, textiles, kinesiology and sociology, as well as researchers from CAVS and NSPARC.
Put simply, the group’s goal is to use data to help coaches and athletes improve their performance. The work includes developing unique wearable sensors that can capture lab-quality data on a field or court. One study looked at how athletes land after they jump in the hopes of reducing injuries. Another used motion-capture to study the mechanics behind the swings of MSU softball players.
“The stars have somewhat aligned for this collaboration,” Burch said. “Athletics is open to sharing data with the academic side of the university and because we’re a top research school, we can take advantage of the research capabilities that already exist here. We believe we’re one of the first schools in the country to have an athletics-academics partnership like this. We want it to be mutually beneficial for everyone involved.”
As a former Bulldog, Burch also hopes the Athlete Engineering team can offer some long-term benefits to current Bulldogs. “Having played college sports, getting out of bed these days is a little bit of an adventure,” Burch added with a laugh. “Hopefully this research can help give current student-athletes a chance to not have to go through that.”